It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.

-Henry David Thoreau

Aging in Place

Thoreau’s quote on wisdom reminds us that wisdom seldom leads to doing desperate things. When it comes to aging in place so often it is a “crisis buy,” that is, remodeling for age-friendly living is neglected until a crisis (often a fall) forces the issue. One of my favorite Buddhist sayings is: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear…The “student” in this case is the aging home-owner, and they have to be ready before any information on home modification is sought out. But so few are…For those of us in the industry–much of our efforts go into educating the public with the intent of preventing home remodeling decisions fueled by crisis. Which in the long-run are more expensive, stress-provoking, and potentially, too late.

Triumph of Hope Over Experience

Aging, is doing something for the first time, its uncharted territory of personal (human) experience. Most of us precariously “age” by watching our loved ones grow old and struggle with architecture and communities that are static, or worse, change rapidly and don’t accommodate. We can’t imagine our future-selves following down the same path; we’ll somehow experience a different kind of aging.

This is the triumph of hope over experience…

This post is not for the “crisis buy” crowd, but for the early adopters who see value in incremental steps towards a richer experience of aging in place, and staying home by choice. So in that spirit, I’d like to introduce the 80/20 Rule as applied to Aging in Place–I trust you early adopters are ready 🙂


Pareto Principle (The 80/20 Rule) “The Vital Few and Trivial Many” Applied to Aging in Place

In the early 1900’s, an Italian economist by the name of  Vilfredo Pareto came up with a mathematical formula describing the unequal distribution of wealth he observed and measured in his native land: He observed, rather astutely, that roughly twenty percent of the people controlled or owned eighty percent of the wealth. Soon after Vilfredo published his 80/20 formula, others in fields such as business and science, began to realize similar phenomenon occurring in their endeavors. Then in the late 1940′s an enterprising pioneer of quality Management named Dr. Joseph M. Juran, recognized the universal principle of the 80/20 Rule (he called it The Vital Few and Trivial Many) it became known as the “Pareto Principle.”

80/20 Explained:

Generally, the Pareto Principle is the observation (not law) that most things in life are not distributed evenly. It can mean all of the following things:

  • 20% of the input creates 80% of the result
  • 20% of the workers produce 80% of the result
  • 20% of the customers create 80% of the revenue
  • 20% of the bugs cause 80% of the crashes
  • 20% of the features cause 80% of the usage
  • And on and on…

The VALUE of the Pareto Principle is in reminding us to stay focused on the 20% that matters and produces the greatest return (the 80% results). Therefore it is critical that we identify which things/activities are The Vital Few. So when considering what kind of Aging in Place remodeling to do, and where to start, it helps to use this concept and terminology with hired professionals, or DIY projects.  Ask, for now:  What 20% of home modifications will provide 80% of my aging-in-place goals of remaining home as I age? For example out of 10 potential modifications, which 2 are the vital few for my circumstances?

These are an example of the 10 most common Aging in Place adaptations to the home:

  1. Accessibility: Non-barrier thresholds to the home
  2. Bathroom Upgrade to accessible shower/bath/grab bars/non-slip floor 
  3. Energy Efficiency
  4. Add Non-Slip Stair Treads
  5. Lighting
  6. Alarm System
  7. Door knobs and Cabinets
  8. Risers
  9. Door Entry Intercoms
  10. Personal Response System

The 20% that matters most will be situational; but #1 and #2 are vital to successful aging in place and a good example of areas to focus efforts initially as a solid foundation for independence.

By Patrick Joseph Roden, PhD


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